The Leinster House administration – the 29th such State body – was brought to an end today and already the political promises are coming hot and heavy. And here’s another one : no matter who you vote for, we promise that a State administration will be elected and the temporary reprieve will be brought to an end. The political system here is geared towards ‘term politics’ ie a State general election must be held every seven years but statute law demands that same must be held within a five-year period of the last such election. Which, basically, means that each Leinster House politician and/or political party is limited, time-wise, in financially securing their own future, at the taxpayers expense, so anything goes, once the end result is financial gain.

They will fill their own pockets by emptying yours. Don’t voluntarily ‘play your part’ in enabling them to do that to you, don’t facilitate them in doing that to you and don’t assist them in enriching themselves at your expense. On Friday 26th February 2016, hit back…!


By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.


Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.

First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O’Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.

BIRD MAN… by John Doran

Gitboy gave a cheeky grin over at Kevin and said “What are you going to do about it, Birdman?”, and he picked all the dead birds up and put them in the bin in the prison yard as he walked around it. He was getting braver by the day. He would call Kevin names out the window at night – he knew that Kevin was due for release soon and he would have to give him a good beating before then. Gitboy’s paranoia was working overtime now. A week passed and there were dead crows in the yard each day, and Kevin would gather them up and place them in the bin as Gitboy and his gang slagged him. Kevin knew he couldn’t take this much longer. He got word from one of the inmates that he was going to get a good beating soon from all of the gang members.

Kevin decided to go up to Gitboy’s cell early one morning and confront him on his own and, as he made his way there, a screw stopped him and told him not to do anything or he would sound the alarm. He made his way back down to his own cell, knowing that he had to come up with another plan quickly.

As he sat in his bed that night, ‘Greybird’ landed on his window sill. Kevin looked out his cell window and, as usual, the floodlights were on. He brought ‘Greybird’ into the cell, and noticed that the bird was very distressed. He talked to him – he could communicate with the bird, and he got an idea which he put to him. The bird got very excited : it was worth a try, he told him. He stayed up all night, putting his plan to the test. The next morning was a lovely summer’s day , as Gitboy was togged out in his shorts, and lay out in the sun, in the centre half of the football tarmac pitch, soaking up the sunshine. He always took up the same position in the yard. The crows were like soldiers along the walls, ready for the battlefield…. (MORE LATER.)


There are currently 52 sentenced Irish republicans in jails in England. Although they are continually transferred from one ‘maximum security’ jail to another, the list below is a fairly accurate guide to where they are presently being held. Included in the list, where known, are their prison numbers. Anyone able to send a card or letter to any of these prisoners should ensure that they include the correct number and full address, since otherwise it is unlikely they will be received.

From ‘IRIS’ magazine, July/August 1982.

HM Prison Gartree, Leicester Road, Market Harborough, LE16 7RP : Liam Baker (464984), Eddie Byrne(873453), Patrick Guilfoyle (507956), Séan Hayes (341418), Séan Kinsella (758661), Shane O’Doherty (336143).

HM Prison Long Lartin, South Littleton, Evesham, Worcs., WR115TZ : Martin Brady (119087), Anthony Cunningham (B03106), Gerry Cunningham (132016), Robert Cunningham (131877), Paul Holmes (119034), Con McFadden (130662), William McLarnon (119082), Andy Mulryan (461576), Patrick Mulryan (461575), James Murphy (340235), Peter Toal (516099).

HM Prison Durham, Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3HU : Ann Gillespie (994769), Eileen Gillespie (994770). (MORE LATER.)


By Ursula Barry.
. What is there for women in Ireland to commemorate in 1916? Did the 1916 Proclamation and the subsequent ‘Democratic Programme of the First Dáil’ contain radical or revolutionary statements on the position of women in Irish society that were later betrayed or sold out in the process of establishing the Free State?
From ‘Iris’ magazine, Easter 1991.

Whatever concessions have been achieved since the establishment of the Free State which have improved the position of women have been the result of the overwhelming demands by women for greater control over their lives. While partition generated two states resistant and antagonistic to the needs of women, republicanism, in all its aspects, has rarely built on its radical strand reflected in the 1916 Proclamation.

Perhaps looking back at the early decades of this century shows us more than anything, that equality and liberation for women in this and every society demands and requires its independent voices and organisations. Only from a position of power have women both influenced and played a central part in the radical republican tradition.

(END of ‘1916 – What Did It Mean For Irish Women?’ : NEXT – ‘GROWING UP IN LONG KESH’, from 1999.)


At the first meeting of the 32-County Dáil Éireann, in Dublin’s Mansion House (on 21st January 1919), Cathal Brugha was elected as ‘Acting President’ in place of Eamonn de Valera, who was at that time still in a British jail (imprisoned for his part in an alleged ‘German Plot’ against Westminster). de Valera had contested a seat in the 14th December 1918 general election for the Falls constituency of Belfast but lost to local ‘United Irish League’ leader, Joe Devlin, by 8,488 votes to 3,245. In September 1919, the British declared Dáil Éireann to be an “illegal assembly” and it was forced to go ‘underground’ but, ‘underground’ or not, it still functioned : Michael Collins and Harry Boland made plans to rescue de Valera from Lincoln Jail in England and, on the 3rd February 1919 – 97 years ago on this date – ‘..here is what actually happened at Lincoln Jail. As de Valera regularly served Mass in the church jail, it was an easy matter for him to pocket a few candles. He melted these down and took an impression of the Chaplain’s master key. As there were double locks on every door, the master key was a must.

There were two ordinary keys made that didn’t work. De Valera made the first impression and had it smuggled out of prison and sent to Gerard Boland in Dublin. Boland sent back the key in a Christmas cake but it didn’t turn the lock. A second impression was made which was sent to Manchester where craftsmen cut what they thought was a true replica. It too was a fiasco. At that juncture Peter De Loughry told dev to have a blank key sent into the prison with a file, saying: “I’ll cut it myself”. The blank key and the file arrived this time in a birthday cake. Peter who was an expert locksmith easily cut a perfect replica.

Outside waiting at the last gate to freedom were Michael Collins and Harry Boland. As Collins spied Dev, Milroy and McGarry coming towards the door, he inserted another key, which he believed would open the last door to freedom. He attempted to turn the lock, giving the key a powerful twist. It broke in the lock. Collins was raging. “I’ve broken the key in the lock – what are we going to do now?” Dev muttered something while inserting the key Peter De Loughry had cut for him. It knocked out the broken part and with one turn the lock clicked open. The five men shook hands and disappeared into the night. Peter De Loughry did not escape with the others as he had but a few weeks left to serve out his sentence…’ (from here.)

Rumours persist to this day that Westminster allowed de Valera to escape as they were aware that he would soon turn his back on republicanism and accept Westminster-imposed Free State structures, which he did in 1926, to the degree that he executed former comrades to help safeguard the British presence in Ireland! Damn those weak locks in Lincoln Jail and damn those that followed de Valera through a ‘constitutional door’ and into Leinster House…


“No voice that was raised in the cause of the poor and oppressed, none that denounced political wrong-doing in Ireland, was more eagerly listened to than that of the graceful and accomplished woman known in literature as ‘Speranza’ and in society as Lady Wilde…” Martin MacDermott.

Lady Jane Wilde (‘Speranza of The Nation’ aka ‘John Fanshaw Ellis’) née Jane Francesca Elgee, mother of Oscar Wilde, died in London from bronchitis on the 3rd February 1896 – 120 years ago on this date. At the time, Oscar was incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison, serving a two year hard labour sentence for ‘gross indecency’ – homosexuality. Despite her dying wish, she was not allowed to see him. Lady Jane Wilde was famous in her own right as a writer and poet : she was an ardent nationalist in addition to being a staunch feminist. Her most famous poem is probably ‘The Famine Year’ –
The Famine Year (The Stricken Land).

Weary men, what reap ye?—Golden corn for the stranger.

What sow ye?— human corpses that wait for the avenger.

Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?

Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.

There’s a proud array of soldiers — what do they round your door?

They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.

Pale mothers, wherefore weeping — would to God that we were dead;

Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Little children, tears are strange upon your infant faces,

God meant you but to smile within your mother’s soft embraces.

Oh! we know not what is smiling, and we know not what is dying;

We’re hungry, very hungry, and we cannot stop our crying.

And some of us grow cold and white — we know not what it means;

But, as they lie beside us, we tremble in our dreams.

There’s a gaunt crowd on the highway — are ye come to pray to man,

With hollow eyes that cannot weep, and for words your faces wan?

No; the blood is dead within our veins — we care not now for life;

Let us die hid in the ditches, far from children and from wife;

We cannot stay and listen to their raving, famished cries —

Bread! Bread! Bread! and none to still their agonies.

We left our infants playing with their dead mother’s hand:

We left our maidens maddened by the fever’s scorching brand:

Better, maiden, thou were strangled in thy own dark–twisted tresses —

Better, infant, thou wer’t smothered in thy mother’s first caresses.

We are fainting in our misery, but God will hear our groan:

Yet, if fellow–men desert us, will He hearken from His Throne?

Accursed are we in our own land, yet toil we still and toil;

But the stranger reaps our harvest— the alien owns our soil.

O Christ! how have we sinned, that on our native plains

We perish houseless, naked, starved, with branded brow, like Cain’s?

Dying, dying wearily, with a torture sure and slow —

Dying, as a dog would die, by the wayside as we go.

One by one they’re falling round us, their pale faces to the sky;

We’ve no strength left to dig them graves — there let them lie.

The wild bird, if he’s stricken, is mourned by the others,

But we — we die in a Christian land — we die amid our brothers,

In the land which God has given, like a wild beast in his cave,

Without a tear, a prayer, a shroud, a coffin or a grave.

Ha! but think ye the contortions on each livid face ye see,

Will not be read on judgement–day by eyes of Deity?

We are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride,

But God will take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.

Now is your hour of pleasure — bask ye in the world’s caresses;

But our whitening bones against ye will rise as witnesses,

From the cabins and the ditches, in their charred, uncoffin’d masses,

For the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.

A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand,

And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.

Folklore has it that, as she lay dying in her home (146 Oakley Street, Chelsea), on the 3rd February 1896 – 120 years ago on this date – aware that her request to visit her son, Oscar, had been refused, her ‘fetch’ (apparition) appeared before Oscar in his cell. Oscar was physically unable to arrange the details for his mother’s funeral and that onerous task fell to his brother, William (‘Willie’) Charles Kingsbury Wilde who, unfortunately, was penniless. Oscar managed to scrap together the bare amount to pay for the funeral service (which was held on the 5th February at Kensal Green Cemetery in London) but the family could not afford a headstone and so Jane Wilde was buried ‘anonymously in common ground’. The ‘Oscar Wilde Society’ later erected a Celtic Cross monument in her memory in the cemetery in the late 1990’s. As Oscar himself might have observed – “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”


On the 21st October 1879 a meeting of concerned individuals was held in the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo, to discuss issues in relation to ‘landlordism’ and the manner in which that subject impacted on those who worked on small land holdings on which they paid ‘rent’, an issue which other groups, such as tenants’ rights organisations and groups who, confined by a small membership, agitated on land issues in their own locality, had voiced concern about. Those present agreed to announce themselves as the ‘Irish National Land League’ (which, at its peak, had 200,000 active members) and Charles Stewart Parnell (who, at 33 years of age, had been an elected member of parliament for the previous four years) was elected president of the new group and Andrew Kettle, Michael Davitt, and Thomas Brennan were appointed as honorary secretaries.

The leadership had ‘form’ in that each had made a name for themselves as campaigners on social issues of the day and were, as such, ‘known’ to the British authorities ; Michael Davitt, who was born into poverty in Straide, Mayo, on the 25th of March, 1846 – at the time of An Gorta Mór – was the second of five children, and was only four years of age when his family were evicted from their home over rent owed, and the dwelling was destroyed by the evicting militia. His father, Martin, was left with no choice but to travel to England to look for a job. Martin’s wife, Sabina, and their five children, were given temporary accommodation by the local priest in Straide. The family were eventually reunited, in England, where young Michael attended school for a few years. His family were struggling, financially, so he obtained work, aged 9, as a labourer (he told his boss he was 13 years old and got the job – working from 6am to 6pm, with a ninty-minute break and a wage of 2s.6d a week) but within weeks he had secured a ‘better’ job, operating a spinning machine but, at only 11 years of age, his right arm got entangled in the machinery and had to be amputated. There was no compensation offered, and no more work, either, for a one-armed machine operator, but he eventually managed to get a job helping the local postmaster.

He was sixteen years young at that time, and was curious about his Irish roots and wanted to know more – he learned all he could about Irish history and, at 19 years young, joined the Fenian movement in England. Two years afterwards he became the organising secretary for northern England and Scotland for that organisation but, on the 18th July 1870 – in his early 20’s – he was arrested in Paddington Station in London after the British had uncovered an IRB operation to import arms. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, on a ‘hard labour’ ticket, and served seven years in Dartmoor Prison in horrific conditions before being released in 1877, at the age of 31, on December 19th.
Almost immediately, he took on the position as a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB and returned to Ireland in January 1878, to a hero’s welcome. At the above-mentioned meeting in the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar he spoke about the need
“..to bring out a reduction of rack-rents…to facilitate the obtaining of the ownership of the soil by the occupiers…the object of the League can be best attained by promoting organisation among the tenant-farmers; by defending those who may be threatened with eviction for refusing to pay unjust rents; by facilitating the working of the Bright clauses of the Irish Land Act during the winter; and by obtaining such reforms in the laws relating to land as will enable every tenant to become owner of his holding by paying a fair rent for a limited number of years…”

In January 1881, Westminster introduced a ‘Land Act’ (‘Coercion/The Protection of Person and Property Act’) which was the first of over a hundred such ‘laws’ that aimed to suppress the increasing discontent in Ireland with British ‘landlordism’ and it was under those ‘laws’ that, on the 3rd February 1881 – 135 years ago on this date – Michael Davitt was arrested for being too ‘outspoken’ in his speeches (he had then only recently addressed a crowd in Loughgall, County Armagh : “Landlords of Ireland are all of one religion. Their god is mammon and rack-rents and evictions their only morality while the toilers of the fields – whether Orangemen, Catholics, Presbyterians or Methodists – are the victims…”). While in prison, he was elected MP for Meath but was disqualified from taking his seat as he was ‘an incarcerated felon’.

Michael Davitt died at 60 years of age in Elphis Hospital in Dublin on the 30th of May 1906, from blood poisoning – he had a tooth extracted and contracted septicaemia from the operation. His body was taken to the Carmelite Friary in Clarendon Street, Dublin, then by train to Foxford in Mayo and he was buried in Straide Abbey, near where he was born.

Thanks for reading, Sharon.



About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
This entry was posted in History/Politics. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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